I was recommended The Last Season a few months ago by one of the staff at Mountain Crossings in Georgia. He told me it would be a great read before or during my travels along the Pacific Crest Trail. Unknowingly I had already passed this book up at a friend’s house but timing is everything and the Universe didn’t want me to read it yet. Now having finally read it, I feel like the book spoke to me in a way it wouldn’t have a few months ago.
The Last Season at its basics is about Randy Morgenson, a National Park Backcountry Ranger who after almost thirty years of service and a lifetime in the wilderness, left for patrol and never returned. In explaining Morgenson’s life and the circumstances surrounding his disappearance, author Eric Blehm also reveals the lesser-known world of backcountry park rangers. He allows the reader to share in Morgenson’s personal life and feel as if they are an active part of the search for him. Blehm seamlessly combines years of research, interviews, and Morgenson’s own private writings resulting in a beautiful preservation of Morgenson’s life and accomplishments.
Blehm is able to paint a picture of Morgenson as a mountain man who is as much of a part of the Sierra Nevada as the meadows that grow there. Reading the excerpts from Morgenson’s journal presented throughout the book often felt like reading a love letter to a muse; both inspiring and passionate. Morgenson’s words are timeless still applying to today’s current issues on land protection and seemed to speak directly to me even though some were written over fifty years ago.
With a combination of interviews with fellow rangers, family members, reports, and various logbook entries, Blehm is able to humanize Morgenson allowing the reader to see him as a mortal man with flaws, not a superhero. This quality of Blehm’s book makes clear the state of mind Morgenson was in at the time of his disappearance and the full impact his life had on friends, family, strangers, and the National Park System itself. Although you may not agree with all Morgenson’s actions or thoughts, you will surely find something in his character that captivates you.
Blehm’s honest presentation of the facts also brings to light a lot of issues within the National Park System. Several of these issues can be seen as a direct result of Morgenson’s disappearance. It can be frustrating to witness mistakes and what tends to come off as the negligence of the park system. It would not surprise me if the National Park System saw The Last Season as an embarrassment.
I did at times find it hard to visualize some of the landscapes Blehm describes which I found broke the flow of the book for me personally. I sometimes found the descriptions to long and would stop reading in order to research specific areas in the Sierra Nevada myself. This, however, was more of a personal issue with a lack of exposure to the backcountry of the Sierras. This did not dissuade me from finishing the book as I felt immersed in the search for Randy.
Although I basically knew the ending before I began, The Last Season still lingers in my mind leaving a lasting impression. Randy Morgenson was not a perfect man, but he sets a high standard for what a park ranger, hiker, and overall human should be. I’m confident that you will be inspired by his life and will find yourself rethinking how you interact with both people and the wilds around you. I only wish that the story had ended differently wondering what more could have been learned from Randy.
If you would like to read The Last Season you can find it on Amazon using this link https://amzn.to/2GlgrVD or you can check your local library!
You can check out other books by Eric Blehm here.
(Photo and book cover as featured on ericblehm.com)
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